DWP accused of ‘denying people their rights’ after rejecting 90% of disability benefit appeals
The DWP said it made the right decision in the ‘majority’ of cases but has been accused of cruelty by campaigners.
by: Chaminda Jayanetti
30 May 2023
Paula Peters addresses campaigners in support of a legal challenge against the government’s Personal Independence Payment (PIP) rules in 2017. The government is now rejecting a record number of appeals. Credit: Mark Kerrison/Alamy Live News
The government is rejecting a record high of almost 90% of disability benefit appeals, sparking accusations it is ignoring court rulings in order to take a harder line on claimants.
The most recent figures covering England and Wales show the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is rejecting 89% of appeals relating to initial applications for the personal independence payment (PIP) disability benefit.
PIP is designed to help mostly working-age people, both in and out of work, with additional living costs arising from long-term disabilities and mental health conditions.
One applicant who has been diagnosed with multiple disabilities told The Big Issue she scored zero on her application and withdrew from the process entirely due to stress.
“They said I’d had the conditions for 20 years and clearly coped so why was I applying now. They missed the bit where I made it abundantly clear my husband had just left me and all informal support was gone, I had to become a single parent and had to deal with all my crap by myself,” said Sarah (not her real name) who has been diagnosed with autism, epilepsy, hypothyroidism, migraines and struggled with multiple pelvic organ prolapses.
“They asked if I had a fidget toy. I said I had one in my handbag I’d been given at some conference or other. The final report said I had a stress ball so it proved I could cope,” she added.
A DWP spokesperson insisted its disability assessors use “all the information available to us at the time” and offer a “compassionate, supportive service”.
The DWP uses assessments run by private firms Capita and Atos to decide how much, if any, PIP benefit to award to applicants.
People who are unhappy with the decision must ask the DWP to conduct a review – a process called mandatory reconsideration (MR).
But the most recent government data, covering the third quarter of 2022, shows the DWP changing its decision in just 11% of MRs – down from more than 40%in early 2021, and the lowest proportion since PIP was launched a decade ago. In the other 89% of cases, the decision was left unaltered.
If an MR is unsuccessful, applicants can go to tribunal, where they have an 80% success rate, including cases the DWP concedes before a hearing takes place. But campaigners say many applicants are too stressed or disillusioned by the MR process to take things further.
Anti-poverty charity Z2k helps people with PIP appeals. Chief executive Anela Anwar said: “These figures demonstrate yet again that mandatory reconsideration is simply an obstacle to seriously ill and disabled people receiving support for the extra costs they face.
“No-one should be forced to go through a lengthy and stressful appeals process to get what they’re legally entitled to. Government must fix the broken system it’s created, and stop denying people their rights.”
Sarah was among dozens of people who contacted The Big Issue whose PIP application and MR appeals were rejected. She was refused PIP and failed at MR before giving up on her tribunal appeal.
“I withdrew and quit because the stress was breaking me,” she told The Big Issue. “They kept offering more points [in assessing the severity of her disability] but arguing and arguing and the lies were so upsetting, I withdrew before the hearing, I couldn’t deal with it any longer.”
Sarah has been diagnosed with autism, epilepsy, hypothyroidism, migraines and multiple pelvic organ prolapses, all of which she sent written evidence for as part of her application – but she scored zero in her initial application.
At MR stage the DWP said her five-hours-a-week job proved she could socialise unaided. “They missed the bit where I went home exhausted after that and didn’t ever go out socially because work sucked everything out of me,” she told The Big Issue.
“I was rebutting their arguments but not understanding I needed to be referencing the descriptors [in the assessment criteria] so I was just having a heated argument on paper for nothing.
“They made me feel like a liar and a charlatan and a pathetic human for even asking for PIP.”
MR success rates for initial PIP applications were generally around 15% until 2019, when the DWP started contacting claimants to collect further evidence at the MR stage. This saw the success rate gradually rise to more than 40% in 2020-21, but it has since plummeted to 11%.
The MR success rate for all PIP cases – including reviews of existing PIP claims as well as new PIP applications – is higher but has followed a similar trajectory, rising from under 20% to over 50% with the 2019 rule change, before slumping back to 20% in the latest figures.
Fightback4Justice is a non-profit organisation based in Bury, Lancashire, which helps PIP applicants with their benefit claims. They have a 91% success rate at PIP tribunals in 2023.
“We are finding that more and more [MRs] are being refused as they are not submitted within the one-month DWP limit,” said Michelle Cardno, founder and lead legal advocate at Fightback4Justice. “The courts have confirmed that someone with disabilities should be allowed reasonable adjustments of up to 13 months to put an MR letter together, but increasingly this year we are finding that the DWP are ignoring this and telling claimants they have just a month to gather the evidence.”
This evidence includes the PIP assessment report. In order to obtain this, applicants must call the DWP’s PIP enquiry line, which has lengthy wait times and high cut-off rates – and even then, the report can take weeks to arrive, Cardno told The Big Issue.
“DWP has always put countless obstacles in the path of disabled claimants in order to deter them from gaining awards on appeal, either MR or via court,” she said. “We have been helping hundreds of clients a month navigate this system but we do see many who give up, even with our help and interaction. The system is flawed and has been since it was introduced.”
Melanie*, a former accountant now in her 50s, suffers from daily headaches, fatigue and eating problems caused by two different cancers, plus complex post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety and depression that stop her from dressing, washing or interacting with others.
Despite previously being awarded the out-of-work disability benefit – employment support allowance – based on her GP report, Melanie’s PIP application was rejected and her MR also failed. She is currently waiting for a tribunal date.
“My MR was rejected on the basis that the [initial PIP] assessment by the ‘health professional’ was correct, despite the fact that he contradicted himself more than once and also made stuff up,” she told TheBig Issue. “For the MR I submitted a letter with reasons. After waiting until the time limit was up I eventually called them to be told over the phone it was rejected.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We support millions of people with disabilities each year and our priority is they get the benefits they are entitled to promptly and receive a supportive, compassionate service.
“Our disability assessors are all qualified health professionals and decisions are made using all the information available to us at the time – in the majority of cases we make the right decision. If someone disagrees with the assessment then they have the right to ask for a review.
“Of the 4.9 million initial PIP decisions made following an assessment, as of December 2022 9% per cent have been appealed and 4% overturned at a tribunal hearing.”
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